Map Fight!

I wrote recently about my indecision surrounding the domain of information design; should detail or simplicity win out? (as always, the answer is probably somewhere in the middle - but hey, that’s boring). Google Maps and Multimap provide an interesting example of what I’m talking about.

Google’s maps are simple; straightforward; and link together yellow pages data with mapping data - together with some cool APIs that enable rip-offs (an ancient term for a mashup). However, they also strip out contextual data that any professional navigator would consider important - landmarks, land type, buildings, etc. It seems apparent that Google are trying to hit a particular market - those who find conventional maps too confusing. And to be fair, they’re doing pretty well - empirical data suggests lots of folks use them. Their reasonably robust mobile maps are also quite handy.

Multimap, on the other hand, looks backward by modern standards: a confusing array of mostly-irrelevant fluff crowds the page. They have one strong advantage, however - they provide contextual information, since they simply use OS maps (at least at medium zoom levels). OS maps are excellent for providing detailed navigation data, and Multimap seems to be the only free online provider of them.

I actually use both sites - Google when I’m searching for things (e.g. dry cleaners in Winchester, of which there turn out not to be many), and Multimap when I want a printable map to navigate to somewhere specific. I would hazard a guess that Google’s map interface was designed by someone who works in a city, as they are virtually useless outside one. Google should be able to make the additional mapping data optional as an overlay - after all, there is already a hybrid interface that mixes maps with satellite pictures. This would be a welcome improvement. Multimap should focus on cleaning up their interface if they don’t want to be run out of town.


[...] Google have clearly made a success of Google Maps (I’ve discussed Google Maps before as compared to Multimap - not entirely favourably - but whatever I think, the market loves the former). Plenty of competitors have also sprung up, notably from Microsoft. Incidentally, Flash Earth brings together all of these services into one ultra-slick interface; although I’d still love to see them available on Jeff Han’s touch screen (iPhone, eat your heart out - your interface is nothing on this). [...]
David, Streetmap - I stopped using them as the interface didn't seem as good as Multimap, but I guess the grid references are useful if you need them. Get-a-map - I personally find the interface pretty awful. Maybe that's just me though. Microsoft - Does do better aerial imagery than Google, true - although I've not seen a compelling use of that yet apart from 'for a lark'. So my apologies, Multimap aren't the only ones who do OS maps. I still suspect the fight's on between them and Google though (are there any other big names in the UK?)
How about <a href="" rel="nofollow">Streetmap</a> (which I use when I need to convert to an OS grid reference), <a href="" rel="nofollow">Get-a-map</a> the OS own mapping site) or, if you can stomach it, <a href="" rel="nofollow">Microsoft</a> (for better coverage of high resolution imagery)?